Italy refuses safe harbour to charity ship carrying migrants

Matteo Salvini

Matteo Salvini said Italy would not offer safe harbour to the 141 people rescued by the Aquarius

The vessel is carrying 141 migrants aboard, and questions about its destination have been raised in the global media, after Italy and Malta denied it entry.

Italy continues to refuse port to ships run by humanitarian groups, and Danilo Toninelli said Monday on Twitter that Britain should take responsibility for the migrants aboard the Aquarius, operated by French humanitarian groups.

The MV Aquarius had started heading north on Sunday towards Europe when Libyan coastguards called the vessel to pick up 10 migrants spotted on a small fiberglass boat.

On Friday, it picked up 141 people in two separate operations, half of them children and over a third of them women, but it has again struggled to find a port to bring them ashore.

The Aquarius, rented by the SOS Mediterranee NGO and managed in partnership with Doctors Without Borders (MSF), was at the centre of worldwide spat in June when Italy and Malta both refused to lot it dock. Italy demands fellow European Union countries take the asylum-seekers from Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

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The European Commission was in touch with several EU states and trying to help resolve the "incident" with the Aquarius, a spokesman in Brussels said.

The humanitarian groups said the Aquarius is adrift between Italy and Malta, and awaiting instructions.

A few dozen people have gathered in the northwestern Bosnian town of Bihac to protest the government's response to an unprecedented influx of migrants from the Middle East, Africa and Asia.

In June, Spain stepped in and welcomed the Aquarius.

Germany last week reached an agreement with Spain for Madrid to take back asylum-seekers who previously applied there and then show up at the German-Austrian border.

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On Monday, sources at the Spanish prime minister's office said that the country's ports were not the safest destination for the vessel, according to local media.

In a statement the Maltese government said the rescue made by the Aquarius took place off the Libyan coast, closer to Libya, Tunisia and Italy (Lampedusa) in an operation which was coordinated by the Libyan authorities.

Paris also voiced regret at the "very tough political stance" of the Italian government. Many recounted how they were "held in inhumane conditions in Libya", where human traffickers are based, the aid group said.

"We have a port, three docks are available and we can welcome these migrants whenever, but they cannot come without the approval of the French authorities", Jean-Claude Gayssot told AFP.

The boat was registered in the British overseas territory, on Spain's southern flank, in 2009.

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